The New Power Couple

Everyone has encountered at least one dysfunctional relationship in her lifetime. For some, it might have been an old college fling. For others, the problematic partnership might have occurred between a boss and employee. At the risk of sounding Dr. Phil-esque, most of these disputes in delicate relationships occur because of underlying tension and the need for one or both parties to change.

One corporate couple that has historically focused more on the Me than the We is the chief marketing officer (CMO) and the chief information officer (CIO). However, according to Christopher Krohn, president and CMO of Restaurant.com, this “natural tension” between the CMO and CIO is healthy.

“[Marketing] leaders are trying to move things typically faster and more aggressively, and IT will want to respond to that; but IT professionals also have to worry about things like maintainability, scalability, security, PCI [Payment Card Industry] compliance, reporting compliance, [and] regulatory compliance,” Krohn says. “It’s just a matter of whether you’re dealing with that tension in a healthy way or an unhealthy way. If the tension isn’t there, then something’s wrong. Somebody’s not pushing aggressively enough on the speed to market, or you’ve got a culture that isn’t entrepreneurial enough.”

As digital strategies mature, the CMO-CIO relationship must mature, as well. One key reason for marketers to better collaborate with their technology brethren is that increasingly their efforts must account for hard business results, and thus marketers’ contributions must be measurable.

“Historically, the farthest away from the technology space would have been members of the creative team. However, today a creative team member…has to think about multiple channels of execution—so, how is this campaign going to translate into print, online,  email, text message, mobile app, or whatever it might be,” Krohn says.

Additionally, consumers’ ability to communicate with brands, and with each other, via a multitude of channels presents marketers with the challenge of capturing data from scores of disparate sources and using it to gain unique customer insight. As a result, many marketers are now tinkering with tools and platforms to capture data quickly and accurately.

They’re also turning to IT—or should be—to form a union that will help marketers harness technology for the greater good of the company. So, it’s critical for today’s CMO and CIO to maintain a healthy relationship by understanding each other’s priorities, defining common objectives, and being open to role changes. Only then can they transform into a true power couple.

Building partnerships

According to Gartner Inc.’s report “Unlocking the Power of a Great Marketing-IT Relationship,” which surveyed more than 2,000 CIOs, a smooth CMO-CIO relationship improves customer engagement, expedites product innovation, optimizes business processes, and provides enterprises with better customer and competitive intelligence.

It’s therefore unsurprising that many CIOs are putting the customer at the center of their strategies and upping their marketing focus. Consequently, for many CIOs, teaming up with CMOs and interacting more with customers is a priority, says Gartner Research Director Heather Colella.

This is already happening at Restaurant.com where Krohn has frequent prioritization meetings with CIO Adnan Adamji to discuss project updates, resource requests, and top priorities.

“We rank those against revenue criteria, strategic criteria, and cost criteria together so that the team is developing a unified set of priorities and a unified development road map…, [and] so there aren’t two sets of priorities,” Krohn says. “There’s only one set of priorities for the entire organization.”

Not collaborating has clear detriments. Krohn points out that disconnected CMO-CIO relationships often result in marketing programs with a lower ROI. Nancy Costopulos, CMO of the American Marketing Association (AMA) says avoiding collaboration can lead to duplicate efforts and financial waste. Marketers might request tools or solutions from the IT department, but if they don’t communicate their needs clearly, they won’t get what they want.

“Bringing the two teams together actually removes some of the friction points that you typically see between marketing and IT,” says Eduardo Conrado, SVP of marketing and IT at Motorola Solutions. Conrado is among the few executives whose blended marketing/IT title clearly depicts their unifying role. “All projects become tightly linked, so there’s better collaboration, better communication,” he says. For Motorola, the process was gradual. Initially, the company dedicated a particular section of its IT department to focusing on the marketing and sales agendas. A year and a half ago that marketing-focused IT group merged with Motorola’s digital marketing department.

Ultimately, IT’s front-office presence has resulted in shared insights across IT, sales, and marketing; these insights allow the company to optimize various marketing activities within the sales funnel.

The AMA’s Costopulos says that teaming up with the IT department has actually made the marketing department more tech-savvy and self-sufficient. IT automated many processes that the marketing department previously performed manually, providing dashboards that Costopulos’s department could manage itself. This increased efficiency:

“Marketers don’t want to go to other departments all the time asking for the things that they need, because we’re always in a hurry,” Costopulos says.

A new face for a new frontier

A successful cross-departmental partnership means squelching territorial instincts. Marketing and IT departments must respectively and respectfully decide how each can incorporate the other’s skill sets.

“In some organizations [joint innovation] is still not viewed as mission critical,” says Elana Anderson, IBM‘s VP of enterprise marketing management. Many IT organizations are project driven and don’t always consider needs within day-to-day operations. Marketing, by contrast, needs “to change culturally so that it’s art and science.”

That this shift will only magnify in coming years is indicated by Gartner’s oft-repeated prediction that CMOs will outspend CIOs on IT by 2017. Additionally, according to Gartner, 71% of executives surveyed said the responsibility of choosing and managing marketing technology providers completely falls into the hands of those in the marketing department.

Consequently, some IT departments are becoming a strategic asset to the marketing organization, and aligning their goals with the entire enterprise’s financial results. And those financial results are increasingly placed within the marketing’s purview.

“I’m of the philosophy that where you put IT reporting in the organization is where IT will focus,” Motorola’s Conrado says. “For example, if IT reports to the CFO, you will focus on cost containment. If IT reports to operations, you will get robust operation tools focused on optimizing supply chain. At Motorola, customers are our top priority. I raised my hand for the role because I believe IT can help us grow more intimate with our customers. Our management team agreed to that approach.”

But for marketers to have success working with technology, they need to have basic IT knowledge in such areas as understanding sales force automation and maintaining an online library of creative assets, Restaurant.com’s Krohn notes. As a result, in some companies marketers and technologists are no longer confined to just one department; they’re beginning to jump from one department to the other.

“One of our business analysts on the IT side moved to take over and run our mobile marketing program in the marketing organization,” Krohn says. “You’re increasingly seeing individuals whose days are spent half of the time on technical tactics and half the time on marketing tactics. As we move people back and forth, and as we train marketing folks in technology and technology folks in marketing, you start to see that it becomes a more unified organization, as opposed to two separate organizations trying to move things forward.”

Similarly, Conrado says that Motorola’s head of digital strategy reports to him, but the position is also part of the CIO’s staff.

Speaking the same language

Getting the CMO and CIO to think differently is another hurdle to overcome—and is particularly challenging when marketing and IT work at a different pace, says Gartner’s Colella.

“[What] IT says about marketing is that they’re willing to sacrifice quality for time to market, and marketing says IT has no appreciation for speed to market, when the reality is it definitely takes longer to develop an idea than to have an idea,” Colella says.

“IT thinks marketing is mainly advertising. Marketers think IT is mostly focused on systems of records and do not have capabilities to create a strategy for systems of engagements,” Conrado adds.

Restaurant.com’s Adamji describes technologists as “purists” due to their perfectionist nature. “They want to put on all the bells and whistles upfront, and they want to do it just right,” he says. As CIO, Adamji also plays the role of peacemaker and says it’s his responsibility to remind his IT team that marketing is there to make profits, not war.

Compromising with the marketing department occasionally requires IT to leave a few “bells and whistles” out of the final product, he explains, but the concession can actually benefit the company overall by reducing the product development time, boosting ROI, and differentiating a company from its competitors.

“The CIO should always talk to the individual team members and remind them that marketing is not there to create complexity for us. It’s there to help us grow our business,” Adamji says. “At the same time, the CMO needs to constantly remind the marketing team that the technology team is there to help them execute their vision….It’s more about perception than reality, and when people see the fruits of everybody’s labor, that’s when both teams are at their best.”

But if the CMO and the CIO can’t speak the same language, then they can’t clearly understand or execute the other’s vision, Colella says. These definitional discrepancies can stem from terms as basic as “customer.”

“In many IT organizations, many CIOs use the word customer to define an internal user,” Colella says. “The key to this kind of relationship is sharing a single definition of customer and recognizing it as the consumer of your organization…. You could come together and talk common ground to start to create solutions for that customer.”

If the two positions still refuse to see eye to eye, Krohn says it’s time to bring in a referee: the CEO. Krohn says CEOs can determine whether they’re sending each department mixed messages or whether it’s time to bring in more agreeable talent. Serving as both the president and the CMO at Restaurant.com, and having eight years of IT experience under his belt, Krohn says his position allows him to see both sides of the corporate fence fairly. “What happens is I’m better able to represent the IT function within the context of the business and the marketing organization than I would if we didn’t have that structure,” he says.

Before fulfilling their current roles, both Krohn and Adamji worked in IT for global management consulting company Accenture.

“Adnan and I share the same IT DNA,” Krohn says. “We were both at Accenture in the late ’80s and early ’90s, so we speak the same language, and we have similar training.”

Adamji says Restaurant.com’s previous CMO “did not have any IT background.” He says the board of directors decided to create the president and CMO position, to whom both IT and marketing report, in 2010. Adamji adds that working with a CMO who has IT experience, and having his own knowledge of marketing and e-commerce, has made collaboration easier.

“Most of the things we [discuss], most of the strategies, and most of the ROI driving projects, we’re on board completely in agreement as to the priorities of the project, and that speaks volumes to the rest of the team. There is no confusion as to what our team should be working on next,” Adamji says. “It helps us drive the business forward.”

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